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How to be #1 in a small market

American ‘agent of change’ Seth Godin wrote a great little blog piece last week: #1 in a small market... In less than 150 words he managed to lay out the foundations of what should be any entrepreneur’s eternal business plan. You think that’s crazy? Consider it. If all your business planning, marketing and service orientation is based on forever being #1 in that same small market, you won’t ever go wrong. Staying true to your small market will build brand equity over time, and organic growth is the logical consequence. Chasing customer numbers by attempting to be too many things to too many people will simply undermine your brand. Yahoo is an example of a company that, through diversification and acquisition, chased largescale growth and is now lacking clear strategic direction. Google perfected its search platform, and by securing the search market, is now offering related services to an already engaged customer base. And Avon Cosmetics is another fine example of a brand staying true to its foundations: 125 years in business and still the clear leader of direct cosmetic sales in the massive cosmetics market.

Great - but how to become #1 in a small market? Whether you want to be the next Google or just a successful small business, these tips will help you retain customers, fend off competition and expand your customer base.

1. Create a brand identity - and be true to it.

Your brand’s personality is intrinsic to your sales proposition. When consumers relate to your brand’s identity and values, they become brand advocates for life. To customers who can’t relate to you, you’re just another company trying to sell them something. So live your brand. Breathe it.

2. Find your evangelists.

Word of mouth recommendations matter more to consumers than a 30-second television commercial. Social media has simplified the process of finding your evangelists enormously. Your evangelists are the people writingon your Facebook wall and tweeting about you. Give them reasons and mechanisms to spread the word across their social networks.

3. Emphasize what makes you different. Don’t get sidetracked copying the competition.

It’s a features and benefits war. You may think you need to counteract your competition with product enhancements and extensions of product lines or services - but if you’re not playing to your strengths, you’re sending yourself down a path of failure.

4. Set expectations and create the infrastructure to support them.

The degree of customer satisfaction is relative to the customer’s expectations. Companies are often guilty of over-promising, misleading advertising and inaccurate branding in an attempt to win customers. It may pay off initially with one-time transactions, but any chance of customer loyalty has been lost, and it’s likely your brand’s reputation has been compromised too. Consumers appreciate honesty. Ryan Air leaves no doubt that it’s a budget airline. It sets expectations with its market, and despite its no-frills service, patrons keep purchasing because their expectations, however low, have been met. Conversely, Singapore Airlines goes to great lengths to support its service promise. From personnel training and employee rewards to the company culture and a world-class airport - every need is met.

5. Be accessible, and be consistent.

Customer service is a key differentiator in today’s global market. Responsive service that not only accurately resolves the issue, but also reflects the brand’s identity, will impart the right impression and keep your customers coming back. Service is about convenience to the customer. If you’ve taken every step to implement the first 4 points, poor service will take the shine off your brand every time. Even if you’re a small business, being accessible by phone, chat, email and social media - and showing a genuine interest in your customers’ needs - will keep you at the top of the leaders’ board.